February 17, 2006

Roses of Muhammad, bread of Vienna

You've probably heard that the Tehran confectioners union has ordered "Danish pastries" (shirini danmarki in Farsi) to be renamed gul-e-muhammadi, or "roses of Muhammad", in an echo of "freedom fries" and "liberty cabbage".

Since this 1/7/2006 AKI story announced the change as a fact (and it was reported on other wire services on 2/14/2006), I'm puzzled about why Aljazeera and other sources reported it today as if it was new news. Also, I don't understand the relevant theology, but it seems to me that calling pastries "roses of Muhammad" inches uncomfortably close to promoting idolatry, at least among those who are excessively fond of the items in question.


Danish Pastry is in Danish called Wienerbrød, Viennese bread, though it is completely unknown in Vienna. In Denmark, it has been known since 1840 and is said to have been created by immigrant bakers from Vienna, perhaps strike breakers.

[Update: Ben Zimmer points out to me that there is a certain amount of controversy about whether what used to be called Persian should be called Farsi or not. I was once instructed in the sternest terms by an Iranian that "Persian" is to be shunned as a relic of Orientalist prejudices; but I've seen equally strong complaints that "Farsi" is insulting because it's false exoticizing. As far as I can see, "Farsi" has become the standard American term for the national language of contemporary Iran, and so that's what I use.]

[On the other hand, Anders Ringström writes that

I have translated a fair amount of documents from Iran, first translated into English by Government approved translators, embellishing their output with lots of official stamps. They invariably testified that the document was translated from the _Persian_ of the original.

And checking on the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) web site, I see things like

Thursday's edition of the Persian language daily `Iran' ...
a morning daily quoted the Persian service of the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)
A three-day international seminar on "Satire and Humour in Persian Literature" kicks off its work here on February 14, 2006, at the Department of Persian Language in Delhi University


Posted by Mark Liberman at February 17, 2006 01:55 PM